As soon as new neighbor Alyssa shows up, Taylor is mesmerized, leaving best friend Julia feeling threatened.
Immediately after 12-year-old Julia has bemoaned the boredom of hanging around her swimming pool with Taylor all summer, Alyssa enters the scene. Alyssa makes an unwelcome comment about Julia’s unicorn-themed T-shirt, so Julia makes fun of Russia, the ball game Alyssa has begun to teach Taylor. Thus begins an escalating conflict, fueled mostly by Alyssa’s cruelty and Taylor’s complicity, which peaks with Alyssa’s challenge to Julia to a one-on-one Russia tournament. Julia’s overbearing but “often right” mother quickly arranges for Julia to spend two weeks at music camp, where Julia partially recovers her sense of self. Before the final Russia showdown—postponed once by the emergence of 17-year cicadas—readers learn about less-than-cool Wendy, loyal to Julia but dandruff-blighted; Julia’s crush on her neighbor Peter; Julia’s first bra; and why Julia’s dream bedroom has been temporarily put on hold. The novel’s underlying tone of superiority, supported by the implicit assurance that life gets better for people who are “passionate about stuff,” is confirmed in the ending acknowledgments: “And an extra special thanks to the two girls who made my life on Albourne Avenue so miserable. Victory is mine.”
Despite the evergreen theme, Julia’s whining is more likely to turn readers off than help them relate to her. (Fiction. 9-11)